Is Nursing Unhealthy?
Does our nursing culture promote healthy living? Or does some of our on-the-job culture create an environment that sets us up for unhealthy habits? Most nurses are on their feet working 8-12 hour shifts, often missing meal breaks and even staying late to chart or finish tasks with patients. For obvious reasons, the care of the patient always takes priority, but what does that do to the health of the nurse working 3-5 days a week with poor habits that could last 30 years plus?
In most cases, nursing staff are allowed one 30-min meal break per 8 or 12-hour shift, but from experience, it was often more of a lucky happenstance than an expected daily leisure. I remember times when I would sign off my patient to a floor nurse so I could take my meal break, and the nurse would rush in asking me to perform tasks she could easily perform. This scenario replayed itself daily where most of the staff had this anxiety or guilt from taking 20 or 30 min to themselves from their hectic 12 hours of chaos. The culture on most floors I’ve ever worked at forced me to justify why I needed to take my lunch break while at the same time being judged for doing so. How dare I take so much time to eat a lunch when so and so hasn’t even had a break or skipped her meal? I’m sure you’ve been on both sides of this coin.
As nurses, we were even allotted two 15 minute breaks during a 12 hour period but it was rare any of us would utilize those for anything other than a quick run to the restroom or to reload on coffee. In a 12 hour period, especially while awake, the body needs hydration and nourishment. As we feed our patient’s 3 times during our shift, sometimes even adding snacks, we are expected to work and function fully alert on often only one meal or less. Most of the nursing staff used energy drinks, coffee, candy or sodas in order to get a quick fix of energy to finish off the day. Can you relate?
Why should we have to constantly create and sustain such bad habits? Why can’t we create a workflow and environment that is safe & healthy for both our patient’s and us as nurses? I think it’s worth our time and effort to create routines that benefits us all. I think we should look to one another for support during a shift and ensure we work together and help one another stay hydrated, nourished and healthy.
On top of these daily bad habits the nursing environment seems to perpetuate, we have all had to deal with the hidden culture lurking about within the nursing community. It has been estimated that up to 85% of nursing staff has had to deal with some form of workplace intimidation or bullying. I experienced this hidden culture firsthand on many different units and even at different hospitals; every hospital I ever worked at, to be honest. The bullying tends to occur from veteran nurses on the unit who create a form of hidden harassment or punishment. I have experienced the following forms: teasing new grads who didn’t get enough tasks accomplished on their shift before report, scorning an RN if a lab or med was accidentally missed (with no harm to the patient), dumping tasks or patients onto floats, new grads or unpopular RNs, divvying out new admissions or discharges to unpopular RNs even when another RN could take it. I have also had RN’s gossip about me or other RN’s behind their back as a source of entertainment & time passing. This all creates so much drama, anxiety, polarizing of the co-workers and overall a hostile work environment that further contributes to an unhealthy work environment.
As a new RN, it’s extremely intimidating already to join a unit where all the RNs are familiar with one another, the doctors, the workflow, the systems and the last thing we need is to feel anxious, intimidation or be scorned. A new grad cannot possibly have the experience of the veteran RN’s and it’s their job to properly educated, train and nurture the potential of the new grads or floats. There is already enough stress to manage in one day: difficult patients, difficult family members, calling doctors, getting meds/supplies, let alone feeling ostracized or mocked by other co-workers who are there to answer questions the new nurses have. I think we have to start to realize the damage this does and look at ways to put a stop to this unnecessary stress in our day. Since new grads, floats and “unpopular” RN’s do not have enough time let alone enough courage to report such minor offenses (which often can be masked as simply “passing report”) it goes unnoticed, unchecked and unresolved. We need to take a stand against some of these stresses and culture. The nursing environment and culture already seem to take a toll on our health when it comes to long hours, minimal hydration and nutrition why add emotional or psychological stress into the mix? If we can eliminate some of the daily stresses, we can improve our overall health and wellbeing.
Here are some possible solutions for the above crises. Everyone should have at least one guaranteed full meal break during a shift (30 minutes divided up into whatever sessions) – a nurse should cover this RN during her meal. The RN can decide if she wants to break her meal break into one 30 min session, two 15 min or three 10 min breaks (allowing time to eat snacks or small meals throughout the day instead). It’s understandable if once a week, an emergency or other circumstances prevent this; but I think if we work together and prop one another up we can greatly enhance our own work environment. Additionally I highly recommend holding a seminar regarding workplace intimidation where veteran RN’s can be reminded how intimidating it is to come onto a floor as a new RN. The new grads and floats will feel less isolated and it should help unite the floor if not at the very least keep bullying at check. New grads, floats and “unpopular” RN’s should have an anonymous way to communicate their experiences so that the RN they are speaking of does not further propagate the intimidation or punishment the individual further. I think it would greatly benefit each nursing unit if at the end of a shift each staff member had to fill out an “exemplary note” for a fellow staff member briefly complimenting them on how they worked well; later posting them up in the staff unit lounge on display. This will lead to improved interactions, higher confidence and overall improved morale amongst the staff, also forcing a positive interaction amongst fellow nurses. Then as a way to jumpstart and encourage healthy living, I suggest nursing units hold “get fit challenges” on the nursing unit to help create a sense of comradery as well as create initiatives to eat healthily. Bring foods/snacks into the break room that promote health. Maybe even do weekly progress reports that not only track ones personal wellness progress but instill a sense of comradery & social support. Each week, a nurse can bring in a healthy recipe or snack for the unit. I want us all to succeed, be better, stronger, healthier & happier nurses! I think if we even took a fraction of the time and energy we dedicate towards our patents and applied that towards one another we could all benefit greatly. I would be happy to have any nurses join my 6-week and personally guide and support you towards your personal health goals. Info on my 6-week fitness challenges can found on my website www.laurendrain.com Let’s all work together and continue to prop one another towards a healthier and happier nursing culture.
Registered Nurse, BSN
Certified Personal Trainer, NASM